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One community, one book, in one month | Kitsap Week

The Big Hump Fire which began on Aug. 31 has burned more than 1,230 acres in the Olympic Mountains.  - John Erwert
The Big Hump Fire which began on Aug. 31 has burned more than 1,230 acres in the Olympic Mountains.
— image credit: John Erwert

The Big Hump forest fire currently burning in the Olympic Mountains provides an uncanny backdrop for Kitsap Regional Library’s One Book, One Community event that kicks off on Saturday.

“Forest fires weren’t really on our minds last winter when we picked the book,” committee member Althea Paulson said. “But now we have had record-breaking wildfires going on in the southern U.S. and we have our own Big Hump.”

The book chosen for the community-wide reading event is “The Big Burn” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Timothy Egan. The non-fiction book recounts the devastating forest fire of 1910 that took place in Montana, Idaho and Washington. The fire destroyed three million acres in a matter of days, and many lives were lost. The devastating fire subsequently solidified the U.S. Forest Service and how the government would handle future fires.

The Kitsap Regional Library committee charged with selecting the book for One Book, One Community sifted through many choices before settling on the “The Big Burn.” (Previous year’s selections were “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Cannery Row,” and “Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.”)

“It’s really an arduous task,” said member Dee D’Haem, Manchester branch manager. “There are so many good books out there. You really havethe whole world to choose from.”

Armed with qualifications such as selecting a book that was available in different formats (large-print, audio and e-book), and equally appealing to young and old, male and female, committee members set out to pick their selection.

“Each year we try to streamline the process,” said Kathleen Thorne. “But I still must have read 15 books. That alone is a daunting task.”

The idea behind One Book, One Community, is to bring a wide variety of people together to read a single book and to spark discussions. In conjunction with the book, there are activities to supplement the story— which was another criteria in choosing a book. It needed to lend itself to programming. Also weighing heavily in the decision was the accessibility to the author.

“It’s really hard to get a dead author to rise up from the grave and give a reading,” Thorne said. (This knocked “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” out of the running.) Egan will speak on Oct. 11 at North Kitsap Community Auditorium.

Thorne is responsible for planning the programs surrounding the book and has scheduled discussions on forest fire management and backyard forest stewardship, as well as musical acts and movie screenings that tie-in with the forest fire and land conservation themes.         Paulson, was struck by how “The Big Burn” brought up many different discussion topics.

“The political and adventure story really brings to the reader three things: the efforts of the government to steward public lands; the individual heroism and tragedy of those who were caught up in [the fire]; and how nature is more powerful than government and humans.”

While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many community members have participated in past One Book, One Community events, Jeff Brody, director of community relations for the library, said every single copy of last year’s One Book selection, “Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” was circulated in the community. And, 175 people attended the book discussion by the author.

This year, there are 345 copies of  “The Big Burn” available in the library system.

The idea of one book being read by a community has its roots in Seattle where 10 years ago, librarian Nancy Pearl began a similar program. The idea has since spread across the nation.

“I really hope people read the book and take advantage of the programs,” Thorne said. “It’s a gripping story and a fascinating picture of life at that time.”

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One book, One Community

The program kicks off at 1 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the Kitsap Mall. View an exhibit of archival photos of the Big Burn and enjoy a Big Burn book talk by KRL staff.

For a complete list of month-long activities, visit your local library branch of www.krl.org.

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